LOS ANGELES (AP) — Cardinal Roger Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, said Monday that he is looking forward to traveling to Rome and electing a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
Although he was publicly rebuked by his successor over a clergy child-molestation scandal, the 76-year-old Mahony retains his full powers as a prince of the church and that includes joining a conclave in mid-March to choose the next pontiff.
Benedict, 85, suddenly announced Monday that he will resign on Feb. 28 because advanced age has robbed him of the strength for the job.
In a statement Mahony, who helped elect Benedict in 2005, called him “an extraordinary successor to St. Peter these past eight years.”
“His homilies and addresses were so amazing because he was not speaking about Jesus Christ as a topic, but he was speaking about Jesus from a deep and intimate knowledge of Jesus himself,” Mahony said. “It was that attraction to the person of Jesus Christ which flowed from all his many teachings for the Church and the world.”
One of Benedict’s legacies will be his focus on evangelism, Mahony said.
“The Church will continue to be blessed by his prayer lifted up for the needs of the world, as well as by his writings which will continue to nourish the minds, hearts and souls of Catholics around the world,” the cardinal said.
“I look forward to traveling to Rome soon to help thank Pope Benedict XVI for his gifted service to the church, and to participate in the conclave to elect his successor.
Age limits forced Mahony to step down as head of the huge archdiocese in 2011.
Long seen as a progressive leader who supported immigrant rights in a district with an enormous Spanish-speaking population, Mahony’s legacy was tainted by a clergy sexual abuse scandal that resulted in a $600 million payout to more than 500 lawsuit plaintiffs.
Earlier this month his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, announced that he was stripping the archbishop emeritus of his administrative duties.
The move followed weeks of damaging disclosures of priest personnel files that revealed Mahony and a top aide maneuvered to shield priests from prosecution, kept parishioners in the dark and failed to call police about sex crimes against minors.
Mahony challenged Gomez for publicly shaming him and said he developed policies to safeguard children after taking over in 1985, despite being unequipped to deal with the molester priests he inherited.
Mahony earlier apologized for mistakes he made in dealing with molesting priests during his more than a quarter-century at the helm of the archdiocese.
His actions should convince the College of Cardinals to forbid Mahony to vote for a new pope, said Joelle Casteix, Western regional director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“The reality that he is going to have a very important voice in the election of a new pope is very disturbing,” she said.
“A new pope is only as good as the men who support him and we believe that anyone that Cardinal Mahony would elect as pope would be someone who would continue the cover up of child sexual abuse.”
Messages for an archdiocesan spokesman seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.